November 20, 2011

Acorn Squash with Wild Rice Stuffing

Surprises.  They keep things interesting, snap us out of boring patterns, and sometimes provide 
much-needed inspiration.  

Take, for instance, what my dogwood is doing this week...

Surely a flowering tree shouldn't be towards the end of November????  Nevertheless, it is blooming away, in bold defiance of the freezing overnight temperatures we've been experiencing off and on for the last few weeks.  Surprising!

Also surprising?  Well, I'll have to make a couple of confessions here.  First, although I love most vegetables, I've never been a huge fan of squash.  Early encounters were not good ones, and consisted of bland and mushy concoctions that were frankly hard to get down.  The unfortunate name didn't help either...'squash'...surely it sounds more appetizing in another language?  Secondly, I'm not a big fan of stuffing either (I know that sounds slightly heretical this time of year).  It's just that I find it doughy, overly moist and, well, superfluous.  I simply don't get what virtually everyone else waxes rapturous about.  It seems to me that stuffing takes up very valuable plate real estate on the big turkey day.  

So, taking the dogwood's bold spirit of non-conformity to heart, I embarked on a personal challenge to find a recipe that features something a little more interesting in the squash and stuffing departments.  I was more than happily surprised with the results.  

I knew as soon as I'd seen these little guys at the market that I'd found the perfect conscripts for my quest.  These were supplied by a local farmer, which I felt great about as I try to buy local when I can.  Since my experience with squash was limited, I searched cook books and settled on and borrowed heavily from Robin Asbell's Pecan and Wild Rice-Stuffed Squash recipe in her lovely book 
The New Whole Grains Cookbook.  

Instead of using wild rice, I opted for a rice mix that I'd used before and liked, made up of wild rice, two kinds of brown rice, and red rice.  I used chicken stock for the cooking liquid, but vegetable stock would keep this a strictly vegetarian dish is you so desire.  I substituted shallots for the onions called for in the original recipe, and added some mushrooms for texture and interest.  My sage had pretty much petered out for the season, so I only had a few small leaves left, which I used for garnish; I used dried in the stuffing mix.

The tops of the squash are cut off, the insides scooped out, and a small slice taken off the bottom for leveling purposes.  The insides are generously oiled and salted, and baked until tender.  Be careful cutting off the bottoms to avoid cutting into and exposing the interior (see squash in the bottom left above...oops).  The original recipe called for grinding a large potion of the nuts and mixing this with the scooped out flesh of the squash, but I chose to leave the squash and nuts intact (easier, less time consuming, and more interesting textures that way).

The toasted pecans provide a delicious compliment to the rice and vegetables in the stuffing, and go particularly well with the subtle flavor of the baked squash.  The warm, nutty and slightly sweet crunch of the pecans is a great texture addition.  Toasting the nuts adds a layer of depth and complexity that simply isn't present otherwise....this is a quick and easy step that shouldn't be skipped.

These can be served with the tops off or on, but I think replacing the tops makes for a dressier presentation, and really shows off the natural beauty provided by Mother Nature (they look like jaunty little hats, don't they?).

The results of this recipe challenge were delicious!  Each forkful of the warm, soft and earthy squash contrasted beautifully with the spicy array of vegetables and nutty textures and flavors of the rice and pecans.  The sage and marjoram shout 'stuffing' but are not overpowering.  The spices could be easily adjusted depending on personal tastes.  Next time I may try an Indian or Mediterranean version, but loved this one so much, I will be hard pressed to change a thing.

This dish exceeded my expectations in every way and is definitely one that I will make again, very soon.  The squash and stuffing were delicious and shattered my earlier prejudices (OK, I was wrong).
Every bite affirmed that I had been sorely mistaken about both this humble vegetable and maligned side dish.  If you are looking for a less traditional stuffing alongside the bird , or just a fresh, new way to serve this simple vegetable, give this recipe a try.
So satisfying and, for me, so surprising.  Like flowers in November...only tastier.

Acorn Squash with Wild Rice Stuffing:

4 small acorn squash (or any squash of choice)

1/2 cup wild rice mix
1 1/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1 tbs olive oil
1/2 to 1 tsp salt, to taste

3 stalks celery, minced
4 small (or 2 large) shallots, minced
1 1/2 cup mushrooms, diced
1 tbs olive oil
1 tsp dried marjoram
1 tsp dried sage (or 3 tbs fresh sage), and fresh sage leaves for garnish
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
pinch of ground nutmeg
1/2 cup toasted pecan pieces, whole pieces reserved for garnish if desired

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Oil a large baking sheet and set aside.  With a strong and very sharp knife, cut the tops off of the squash.  Also cut a small slice off the bottom to keep the squash upright--make sure not to cut too deep or you will cut into the interior of the squash.  Set the tops aside, and rub lightly with oil if desired (for presentation).  If the seeds are not exposed, cut a circle into the top of the flesh, expose the seeds and interior, and scrape out the insides.  You can reserve the seeds and bake along with the squash if desired, or discard with the stringy pulp.  Scrape the interior clean.  Generously oil and salt the inside of each squash, and place on the greased baking sheet.  Bake for approximately 20 to 25 minutes until a paring knife pierces the flesh easily.

While the squash is baking, fix the rice.  Bring 1 1/4 cup broth, rice, olive oil and salt to boil in a medium saucepan.  Lower the heat, replace the lid, and simmer for approximately 20 to 30 minutes until all of the liquid is absorbed.  Remove from the heat and let set for 5 minutes.

While the rice is simmering, saute the celery and shallots in the olive oil over medium heat until translucent, about five minutes.  Add the mushrooms, marjoram and sage, continuing to saute until all the vegetables are just softened (do not overcook).  Season with salt and pepper to taste, and stir in the toasted pecan pieces.  Stir into the cooked wild rice mixture.

To assemble, fill each cooked squash with spoonfuls of the rice stuffing, lightly pressing down while filling.  Garnish with whole toasted pecan pieces and sage leaves if desired.  Replace the squash tops for serving.


  1. Perfect fall celebration..:) Loved it..

  2. looks lovely and delicious, and it is so healthy too! really a great combo of tastes: the sage with the squash and the mushrooms... yum! and sellery is always a great ingredient to have.

  3. These stuffed squash are really perfect et they look really good! I'm glad you published this recipe!

  4. These are the cutest little things ever! What a deliciously healthy dish. I love your photos :)

  5. I love the presentation of this dish - it's so cute! Happy Thanksgiving!

  6. Reva--thank you for coming by. I love to celebrate the food of the seasons! Thank you for sharing your comments.

    Barbara--I was so happy too with how all the flavors came was so yummy!

    Kim--I'm glad you stopped by. Thank you for your kind words.

    Anna--Thank you for the nice comments. I love recipes that taste great and are healthy too! What a great win-win!

    Divya--Thank you! The squash were such cute little guys to begin with, I couldn't even think about doing anything different with them besides keeping them whole so they could wear there little hats! ;-)

  7. Hi, my name is Laura and I found your blog through Diva Cafe. It's lovely. I am always on the lookout for healthy, organic recipes. I have a site as well. Mine is bamboo, hemp and organics. I will stop by more often and I will also check out the other site you did a recent guest post on. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Hi Laura! Welcome! Thank you SO much for stopping is great to receive the very-much-appreciated comments. I hope you will stop by again for a visit...I've got lots of healthy and yummy recipes I'm looking forward to sharing. I will swing over and check out your site as well. Cheers!

  9. hi, thank you for stopping by! it has been quite a long time since hearing from you last! lovely this idea of wild rice filled squash! a great vegetarian dish. very smart to add celery and mushrooms to the rice. make for a lot of flavor, I am sure.

  10. wow. did not realize this was a old post and I already commented on it! now you will have 3 comments from me on the same post! how does that sound? welcome back!

  11. Too funny! I'm glad you popped over, again! It is an old post, but feels like yesterday, and it's getting to be that 'stuffing' time of year again anyway...I've been on the lookout for some more acorn squash so I can make this again. It was truly delicious (even if I do say so myself). I hope you give it a try!


So glad you came by! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!